Rally Finland, Round 8 of WRC 2022 has been dubbed the “Grand Prix on Gravel”. This is because, thanks to the soft soil with high grip and gentle corners, it is possible to drive at a high speed of over 200 km/h in an instant even though it is off-road. In addition, the curved road surface induces continuous jumps, creating dramatic scenes. The average speed recorded by Kris Meeke in 2016 of 126.62 km/h was the highest in WRC history.
On high-speed courses with frequent blind corners, players must focus on maintaining optimum speed. In a rally where high-speed courses are dominant, the gap between players is surprisingly small, and there is little opportunity to make up for mistakes. Since rally cars have to jump frequently, drivers also need know-how in jumping techniques.
Rally Finland began in 1951 as a qualifier event for the Monte Carlo Rally. It has been included in the calendar since 1973 when the WRC was established, and now it celebrates its 49th anniversary this year. In the past, it was also called “1000 Lakes Rally”. Finland is famous for being ‘the land of lakes,’ with over 180,000 lakes. There are also numerous large and small lakes around Jyväskylä, where the Rally headquarters is located.
The event that was once held last fall due to the epidemic now has returned to the summer as its tradition. The quarantine control was also lifted, allowing visitors to enjoy the event more freely. About half of the courses have been renewed for this year’s rally, and the committee has newly allocated courses as long as about 30 kilometers. In addition, it is going to be raining, making it an unpredictable variable.
The Hyundai Motorsport GmbH drivers were Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak, and Oliver Solberg. Tanak has been doing well in Finland, winning in 2018 and 2019 and finishing second last year, taking advantage of the rally being similar to his home country’s, Estonia. Neuville, on the other hand, has not had a very good record in Finland. His only podium record was 2nd place in 2013, just before he transferred to Hyundai. In an interview right before the race, he said that compared to Estonia, the Finnish courses were more demanding due to high grip and fast cornering speed.
Solberg made his first challenge in Rally Finland with the highest class racing car since he entered Rally 2 last year. The task is how quickly he will adapt to his intense speed and dramatic jumps. In Rally 2 class, Teemu Suninen aims to win by taking advantage of his home ground advantage. Hayden Paddon, who drove for Hyundai in 2014-2018, also received his Hyundai i20 N Rally 2 back again since Rally Estonia.
Earlier this year, Hyundai set up a new test base in Finland to improve its ability to adapt to high-speed gravels. Compared to Germany’s Alzenau, where their headquarters is located, high-speed gravel and winter tests were both possible in Finland. The base is located near Jämsä, where Saturday’s round will be held.
Toyota, with its team headquarters in Finland, has a home ground advantage. Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta, who have the most points in the Drivers’ Championship, were still in the entries. Rovanperä, who is the youngest champion this season with five wins, has surprisingly never won on his home ground. Evans won last year, and Lappi is the 2017 winner in Finland.
M-Sport Ford prepared five Puma Rally 1s. Craig Breen, who was the only team member to step on the Finnish podium, followed by Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith, Pierre-Louis Loubet, and Yari Hutunen. Jari Huttunen) are the drivers. Finnish player Huttunen from the Hyundai Junior program is making his Rally 1 debut this time.
The race started at 7pm on Thursday evening at the 3.48km-long SS1 Harju in the city center of Jyväskylä. The rally was driven on surfaces ranging from gravel in the park and tarmac in the city, and race cars made two laps around the park. In this special stage, Neuville and Tanak started first and second; But obviously, the true rally would start on Friday.
On Friday morning, the drivers drove northeast for a loop through Laukaa and Lankamaa. The contestants then moved west again via a shortened version of Harju (SS6), going through nine 124.91km-long stages, repeating Ässämäki and Sahloinen-Moksi. Laukaa, where the opening stage of the day took place, is the longest of the round at 21.69km-long. The famous stage Lankamaa, which has not been open since 2017, is this time in the reverse direction.
On the opening stage, Tanak recorded the top time and took the lead overall. On the other hand, Neuville was slightly behind Tanak by 8.6 seconds. On this day, Tanak and Lappi continued a fierce battle for 1st and 2nd places. With SS5 canceled due to safety concerns, Tanak took the lead in three stages and Lappi took the lead in four stages.
As a result of the first day of the match, Neuville, who struggled to secure rear traction, placed 7th overall behind Katsuta. But the most unfortunate driver was Solberg. After starting SS2, Solberg went off the corner slightly and collided with a rock, and was unable to continue the race due to damage to the roll cage. It was also difficult to get his direction right as he had already entered the corner. Huttunen’s Rally 1 debut was also tough. Due to fuel pressure issues, he had a slim chance of scoring as he wasted about five minutes in the SS8. In addition, Loubet suffered a broken steering and Breen an intercom failure.
Tanak, who had pushed the i20 N Rally 1 to the limit from the beginning of the race, maintained the overall lead by 3.8 seconds at the end of Friday. Lappi took second place, followed by Evans, Rovanpera, Breen, Katsuta, Neuville, Loubet and Greensmith. Hyundai WRC2’s Suninen overtook Lindholm by 19.4 seconds and placed 10th overall. Up to this point, Suninen looked like he was taking his first class win this season.
Saturday, August 6th. Participants moved to Jämsä, southwest of Jyväskylä. On that day, they had a fierce day at the 150.3km point, which is nearly half point of the entire race. Jämsä is home to Hyundai’s new test base, with dramatic rollercoaster roads nearby. Moreover, it is adjacent to the Ouninpohja jump, which is the symbol of Finland. It was excluded in 2008 due to safety issues and returned in 2012, but disappeared again. Instead, some of the new Rapsula stages contain the old Ouninpohja section.
The road surface moistened by the overnight rain made it more slippery, making it difficult to secure visibility. On the opening stage SS11, Evans recorded his stage top time for the first time this round. Rovanpera, who had to clean the road because he was the first to leave yesterday, finally got out today and increased his pace. He was the fastest in four stages and finished second overall in SS16.
Tanak held the lead in SS14 top time and tied with Rovanpera in SS17. Breen retired from SS12 when he collided with a rock in the bush on the right while landing. Neuville, who replaced the differential on Friday evening, jumped from 7th to 5th as Breen and Katsuta fell behind.
As on Friday, Tanak finished Saturday with an overall lead on this day. The time difference with Rovanpera in second place is 8.4 seconds. Lappi, who had trouble securing visibility due to a broken window, fell a little behind, but maintained his third place. With 45.8 seconds behind Evans in fourth, Neuville placed fifth. It was followed by Katsuta, Greensmith, Loubet, Suninen and Lindholm. Suninen, who started Saturday as a lead in WRC2, maintained a time difference of 10.7 seconds with Lindholm.
On Sunday, the final battle took place in the 43.92km-long SS19-SS22, which repeats two stages, Oittila and Ruuhimäki. At Ruuhimäki, which is also a power stage, drivers have to finish the course with a big jump, which becomes a great show for the audience.
With close differences, Tanak and Rovanpera began the final bloody battle. On the opening SS19 Oittila, Tanak increase the time difference with Rovanpera to 10.3 seconds with astonishing pace. In the next Ruuhimäki, the two drivers continued a close fight with a tie record. Again on SS21, Oittila, Rovanpera was faster. However, as Tanak finished second by 0.3 seconds, the total gap was only 10 seconds. Behind the two players, Neuville finished third for the third time in a row. However, it is difficult to expect a change in the rankings as they have a gap of more than 40 seconds with Evans, who is fourth overall.
At 1:12 pm the Power Stage/Final Stage started again at Ruuhimäki. Tanak kept his breath-taking concentration until the very end, and as a result, he won his second win of the season. Power stage points were taken by Rovanpera, Breen, Evans, Tanak and Neuville, respectively. Tanak showed a steady performance even when he was being pursued closely. With this win, Tanak overtook Neuville in points at the Drivers’ Championship to finish second overall.
With Tanak’s thrilling drive, Hyundai won the first Finnish championship in the team’s history. On the other hand, Rovanpera, once again, failed to record his first win at his home ground and finished second. Lappi stood third on the podium despite a rollover at SS21. Behind Evans in 4th was Neuville, marking 5th overall.
Although Hyundai Motorsport N’s Teemu Suninen finished 8th overall with his first win of the season, he has been disqualified from the rally after the front bumper of his car was found to be underweight. The regulations require the front bumper to weigh 4.51 kg, but he accidentally used a test front bumper that weighed 3.93 kg. It wasn’t a weight difference that would affect the result, but the strict rules of motorsport for fair play were brutal. The 9th round of WRC, held from August 18 to 21, is the second Tarmac Rally of the season to be held in Belgium, Neuville’s hometown.
On the same weekend, the 7th round of the WTCR (World Touring Car Cup) was held in Alsace, eastern France. There was a high possibility of snatching the double champions of the Hyundai BRC team and Mikel Azcona. As Syan Performance Lynk & Co abandoned the entire season due to tire safety concerns, the number of competitors was reduced to 12. In Race 1 at Anneau du Rhin, Azcona finished 3rd from 3rd grid and Michelisz from 8th grid finished 4th after a fierce struggle. On the other hand, in Race 2 that followed, Azcona on the 8th grid caught up behind Michelisz with a godly overtaking, and changed positions according to the team’s instructions. Again, Azcona marked 3rd and Michelisz 4th.
With this, Azcona’s driver points are 241 and Hyundai BRC’s team points are 368, bringing them closer to both championship titles. There are many complaints about the season being too short due to the cancellation of 5 rounds, so the FIA and the organizers are discussing an additional round. So, no one knows where this will go.
By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.